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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Never Judge a Movie by it's Title




There was a time when I would always save room in my suitcase for new additions to complement my Moscow video library. Any trip home, no matter how busy, always included a thorough scan of local video stores to see what Hollywood trash might brighten some of the those long winter nights.


But now that there is an ample selection of illegally reproduced English-language videos at kiosks throughout the city, I no longer need to reserve that little quadrant I once cleared for video cassettes. There are definite advantages to living in a country that does not respect copyright law.


My regular perusals of Moscow's video kiosks are not only entertaining, but educational as well. As long as I keep myself fairly up to date on the recent Hollywood releases, I rarely walk away from a video shopping spree without a few new vocabulary words.


In a recent run, I stumbled across <i>Luchshy Strelok</i> (Top Gun, or, to be more literal, Best Shot), <i>Svidetel'</i> (Witness), and <i>S Pervogo Vzglyada</i> (At First Sight). Even if the films themselves are less than memorable, at least the Russian titles may stick long enough in your memory to be useful, say, during your next hunting trip, criminal investigation, or when you fall in love with a stranger.


It was not until I was looking for a copy of <i>Missiya Nevypolnima</i> f or Mission Impossible f that I learned the word for knight, <i>rytsar',</i> when I saw a Russian-language copy of that utterly forgettable interpretation of the King Arthur tale, First Knight, starring Richard Gere as Lancelot.


However, judging from the number of Richard Gere films they can pack into one small kiosk f among them <i>Sbezhavshaya Nevesta</i>, or Runaway Bride f he appears to have many Russian fans. Almost as many as that <i>Krepky Oreshek</i> himself, Bruce Willis.


With Willis' Die Hard 1 through 17 series we run into a snag. Film title translations are often not literal, but figurative. So Willis the action hero is not, in Russian, a die hard, but rather a tough nut.


In many cases, taking these artistic liberties in translation often suits the film better than the original title. Take, for example, the film <i>Plutovstvo</i>. This word, meaning trickery, conveys the cynical nature of the Robert De Niro/Dustin Hoffman film much more accurately than its English title: Wag the Dog.


In fact, by sticking too close to the original title, the Russian equivalent can often be confusing. A friend of mine found this out when he was trying to decipher an ad for <i>Zelyonaya Milya</i>. The first word, green, he understood without a hitch, but <i>milya?</i> Only after consulting a friend did he figure out it was an ad for "The Green Mile," a Tom Hanks vehicle. Perhaps it would have been better if they had made it the <i>Zelyony Kilometr</i>.